Howard James, a former assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank, was the only African American owner of a tea or coffee shop in Philadelphia, but his shop, Tea Country, was destroyed by fire last year. He is teaching a class next Tuesday, Oct. 14, on tea for Mt. Airy Learning Tree.

Howard James, a former assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank, was the only African American owner of a tea or coffee shop in Philadelphia, but his shop, Tea Country, was destroyed by fire last year. He is teaching a class next Tuesday, Oct. 14, on tea for Mt. Airy Learning Tree.

by Lou Mancinelli

Eat, drink and think healthy. Such is the inspiration behind the Holistic Health Suite and Cafe, a new venture that will bring a mix of vegetarian and vegan sandwiches, salads, wraps and more, along with gourmet loose teas from around the world and classes on nutrition, acupuncture and acupressure to 6802 Old York Rd. in East Oak Lane.

The vision comes from longtime East Oak Lane residents Howard James and his wife, Dr. Karen James, and will weave two family passions together. Dr. James, a certified holistic practitioner, will teach the classes and help guide the nutritional arm of the menu.

“My family has chosen a non-traditional healing process,” James said about the role of homeopathy in their lives.

Homeopathic medicine aims to treat ailments with preventive measures and without pharmaceuticals. When you get a backache, the approach doesn’t involve pills but perhaps a blend of stretching and acupuncture, maybe even a new chair.

James will teach classes about tea at the cafe. He is also teaching Introduction to Tea through the Mt. Airy Learning Tree next Tuesday, Oct. 14, 6:30 at the Holistic Health Suite and Cafe.

Participants will taste and learn about different types of teas — white, green, black, oolong — from China, India, Africa, Sri Lanka and the cultures that go with the tea. White tea and green tea come from the same tea plant, for example. White tea is a young tea leaf, picked early, before the leaf buds. Green tea is the mature leaf, like red peppers are mature green peppers.

James first entered the tea business in 2001 after taking the concept of a gourmet tea business, an MBA project at Eastern University he conceived with a partner, from the classroom to the web. From 2001 to 2004, along with one more partner, they ran Tea Country, an e-commerce site that imported more than 100 gourmet teas from around the world.

They expanded into a storefront on Old York Road two blocks from the site of the new cafe in 2004. Three years later they opened a second shop at Temple University, but when the economy collapsed in 2008, they closed it.

And last year, when a tenant’s second-floor apartment caught fire at the East Oak Lane building where Tea Country was housed, a building owned by James, it damaged the first floor and storefront too, and Tea Country had to close.

The turn towards a cafe with loose gourmet tea is the extension of a long-time James family habit. Married for 37 years, James said that for 35 of those years he and his wife and family have followed a health conscious diet.

After working for more than 20 years in the IT industry, James became an assistant vice president for information technology for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, at times overseeing the entire IT infrastructure of the Federal Reserve across the country.

At the age of 50, he retired early and entered a fast-track MBA program at Eastern, but he has also aided his wife in achieving her longtime dream of opening a holistic health business and cafe.

James himself was raised with a foot in welfare at the James Weldon Johnson Homes, public housing projects at 25th and Norris in North Philadelphia. “I watched my mother struggle to make ends meet,” he said. James, 66, who has lived in East Oak Lane for 37 years, graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a business management and systems analysis degree in 1974.

With Tea Country and now, when it officially opens in early November, at Holistic Health Suite and Cafe, the loose tea represents a point where the global economy meets a small local business, in this case, a niche market.

James said he actually likes to eat the tea leaves when he’s finished drinking the tea. His favorite is a Chinese green tea called Dragonwell. “When you steep it, every iota of goodness doesn’t come out of the leaf,” he said.

For more information about the class, Tuesday, October 14, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. ($5), at Holistic Health Suite and Cafe, 6802 Old York Road, Philadelphia, 19126, call Howard James at 215-200-5884. For more information about the café, call 215-843-6333.

  • TRI

    Mr. James is a wealth of knowledge on teas and including their medicinal
    value. I’ve attended some of his workshops at Tea Country and I’m sure
    the Mt. Airy Learning Tree class will be well received!

  • Zeve

    I came across another tea-related venture started by a Philadelphia couple. It is here: http://everythingfortea.com/f733

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